Inquiry launched into alleged use of council copiers in run up to election
An investigation is under way into claims council printing equipment has been used to produce election leaflets at a cost to the taxpayer.
Hartlepool Borough Council is carrying out the inquiry after concerns were raised the photocopying facilities at the civic centre had been used to produce election material.
Voters will go to the polls next Thursday as residents decide on which of the candidates registered in each of the authority’s 11 wards will take on its vacant post.
A third of the seats on the council are up for election.
In a note sent to councillors, the authority’s local returning officer Peter Devlin said: “It has been brought to my attention a concern that there could possibly be an abuse of the council’s photocopying facilities by one or more councillors for the purposes of producing election material.
“Can I remind you all that under the Local Government Act 1986, the council cannot give any financial assistance or indeed, any assistance in kind, to any person to produce publicity which the council is expressly prohibited from publishing itself.
“This would cover the use of council resources, including photocopying facilities to produce or otherwise replicate material for the purposes of promoting a political party.
“This provision has application regardless of an election, but clearly, there is (and quite understandably so) greater scrutiny of the actions, most particularly of those holding public office during the time of an election.
“If a member has so engaged or even contemplates using council resources for political purposes, they need to recoil from such actions and thoughts with immediate effect.
“I trust the advice provided herein is followed and that there will not be a need to repeat such advice again during this election period.”
A council spokesman said: “We are aware of a claim that has been made in relation to the use of council printers. We are currently looking into the matter.”
Electoral Commission guidance sets out that all campaign material must, by law, include an imprint saying who is responsible for its production to help ensure the process is transparent,
Literature, including leaflets and posters, must include the name and address of the printer, promoter and any person the material is being published on behalf of.
There are also limits on how much candidates can spend at elections and after the votes, agents must account for the costs of campaigning and donations to the campaign in a spending return.
Candidate spending includes leaflets, billboard advertising, websites and campaign staff costs.